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China enlists private courier companies to use drones for military logistics support

According to a report by Xinhua, People’s Liberation Army of China (PLA) enlisted private courier companies to help deliver on unmanned emergency missions. The exercise took place earlier in the provinces of Yunnan and Shaanxi. It was the first time that the Chinese military used civilian drones for a logistics exercise.

At the Yunnan drill, as reported by South China Morning Post, an SF Express drone was used to deliver urgently needed spare parts for a damaged radar in a rugged mountainous area. The deployment only took about an hour, less than half the time it would have taken to use truck delivery.

At the Shaanxi drill, the scenario was a medical emergency in which a SF Express drone was deployed to deliver antivenin to the victim. The mission only took 22 minutes to complete, as compared to the two hours it would have taken by road.

According to military experts interviewed by South China Morning Post, the expansion of e-commerce industry in China has made drones cheaper and available for mass production. As a result, civilian drones became a good source of backup on military logistics, even though they are often less accurate and have smaller carrying capacity compared to military drones.

In October last year, the PLA has signed a deal with SF Express and four other non-military logistics companies to help modernise the logistics network of the country’s air force. Such companies include JD Logistics, Deppon Logistics, China Railway Express, and state courier China Postal Express & Logistics. The co-operation is to address the manpower shortage in PLA’s logistics network in face of its growing demands using civilian aviation capabilities.

According to Reuters, the agreement would see co-operation between the PLA and SF Express over the next five years in a series of areas such as goods transportation and warehouse management to improve the logistics network and aid air force combat. The private courier company added that it had set up a special division to handle the work.

Such co-operation is a wider plan of both modernisation of the army and to promote civilian-military integrations. A recent example is that the PLA and SF Express jointly launched a new air cargo route to Tibet.  According to a report by Xinhua last week, the new route goes from Chengdu, capital of the southwest Sichuan province, to Lhasa in Tibet. The flight will reserve space for the PLA, providing it with new means to airlift military cargo in and out of Tibet.

SF Express has been working with the PLA logistics department since 2016, taking part in pilot work such as the delivery of military uniforms as well as other drone delivery.

Feature image: Xinhua News Agency

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